The Holocaust Memorial that Breathes and Whispers in the Jerusalem Hills

Thursday, January 14, 2021 2:00 PM

The 6 million trees in Martyrs’ Forest serve as eternal living memorials for the six million Jewish lives cut short by the Nazis during World War II.



In 1951, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and World B’nai B’rith established one of the first Holocaust memorials in the fledgling Jewish State: The Forest of the Martyrs in the hills of Jerusalem. In that decade, six million trees would eventually be planted – one for each of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The forest was divided into sections, with each plot commemorating a different destroyed community in Europe.

Fast forward to 70 years later: Martyrs’ Forest today is verdant and flourishing, a place where memory comes alive. With the support of KKL-JNF’s friends throughout the world, various sites have been recently added or upgraded, in order to open up the forest to larger numbers of visitors and to make it accessible to people with physical limitations. Let us introduce you, dear reader, to some of the forest’s key sites:

In its Heart, a Fire Burns
In the heart of the forest stands the Scroll of Fire monument, which tells the story of the Jewish people from the Holocaust to rebirth. The large bronze monument, which towers at 8.5 meters, was wrought by sculptor Nathan Rapoport, a Holocaust survivor who also sculpted the Warsaw Ghetto memorial at Yad Vashem and in Poland. It is shaped in the form of two scrolls, one depicting the Holocaust and the other depicting Israel’s rebirth. Among the historical events and people depicted on the monument are the ghetto fighters, Janusz Korczak, Nazi soldiers, Jewish refugees immigrating to the land of Israel, olive trees and the blowing of a shofar.
JNF-KKL Germany, who sponsored the creation of the Scrolls of Fire 50 years ago, also supported its recent renovation and upgrade, with an expanded entrance plaza to make the site accessible for people with disabilities, a retiled memorial platform and a renovated donor appreciation center. It is here where KKL-JNF and the B’nai B’rith World Center hold their annual special ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day – the only ceremony in Israel that officially honors the heroic acts of Jews who rescued other Jews during the Holocaust. Holocaust survivors and their families are an integral part of the ceremony, and before and afterwards, the survivors tell their stories to groups of students and IDF soldiers at testimonial corners specially set up throughout the forest.
The Journey Begins

It’s not only on Holocaust Remembrance Day that the forest comes to life. Throughout the rest of the year, it is a live and vibrant forest that attracts thousands of visitors who come to enjoy the magnificent scenery, spend time in nature with loved ones, and lead educational tours for school groups and young delegations.

With the support of its friends worldwide, KKL-JNF has developed additional recreation sites and scenic and access routes throughout the forest, in order to accommodate its many visitors. The forest’s Western Entrance, for example, was developed with the support of JNF Canada. The entrance road was made easily accessible and safe, and a parking lot was also created. An impressive entrance sign was installed on a stone wall, along with signage with explanations about the forest.

Sarah and Yaakov Abin from Holon, who came to see the winter wildflowers, were standing next to a sign with a map of the forest. "As someone who is the second generation of Holocaust survivors, it is very important for me that the survivors are commemorated, especially in a place that is full of life," Sarah said. "Holocaust survivors built this country and helped lead our people from the Holocaust to rebirth."
An Imperative to Live and to Be

A few hundred meters away from the entrance plaza, one can picnic in the shade of the trees at one of the Sabra Recreation Sites built by KKL-JNF with the support of its friends in Israel. One of the picnic sites has been specially adapted to visitors with disabilities, including an accessible path and tables suitable for wheelchairs.

Directly below the recreation sites, visitors can spend the night among the olive trees, thanks to the campsite created by KKL-JNF with the help of its friends in Norway. During the daylight hours, this is a choice picnic site for anyone who wants to spread a mat on the grass lawn and enjoy the special atmosphere.

Among the visitors to the forest was Mark Baboot, an educator and school principal. "It's really important that there are places where families can spend time together in nature. There's so much to learn here about nature and our people's history," he said.

Facing the new campsite is the Norwegian Walls memorial site, where stone terraces bear memorial tablets that commemorate Holocaust victims from Norway. This site was upgraded in conjunction with the campsite, also with the support of friends of KKL-JNF from Norway.
Walk. Remember. Stop. Feel.

Further in, KKL-JNF has created a network of hiking and biking paths, as well as an access network for motor vehicles. One of the most popular trails is Martyrs’ Trail, a hiking path that descends from the Scroll of Fire monument to the B’nai B’rith Memorial Cave. This natural cave, which is located in the Nahal Kesalon streambed, was enlarged in order to be used as a place to commune with the memory of those who were lost to us. KKL-JNF has added a large assembly plaza at the entrance to the cave.

From the cave plaza, an accessible path makes its way through the Anne Frank Memorial Park, whose very first tree was planted in 1960 by Anne’s father, Otto Frank. All along the path are columns that tell the story of Anne Frank’s life, together with quotes from her diary related to the chestnut tree that she would gaze upon from the attic window of her hiding place. The path ends at a memorial sculpture created by Dutch sculptor and Holocaust survivor Piet Cohen. Created from rusted steel, the structure forms the bare bones of a room. In one corner is an uncomfortable bench from which the viewer can see a carved-out image of Anne’s beloved chestnut tree. The viewing experience is meant to recreate the feeling of imprisonment, isolation and discomfort while looking longingly through a window at the world outside.
The Harsh Path to Redemption

Another recreation site that attracts many visitors sits on the northern bank of Nahal Kisalon, near Moshav Shoresh. This is the Stone Steps Recreation Site, which was developed with the support of KKL France and is named for the steps carved into the rocky slope of the hill up to its very top.
Martyrs’ Forest symbolizes the connection between the memory of those who perished and the regrowth of the Jewish people in their homeland in a way that no other place does. This sacred space bears witness to Israel's complex reality, in which bereavement and the celebration of life are closely intertwined. The invigoration and calmness of nature serves as a springboard for remembering our past and the heavy price paid by our people on the path to redemption and renewal in the State of Israel.